Penn State coach Cael Sanderson admitted it was a strange week preparing for Ohio State without Jason Nolf.
But that “strange” feeling was replaced with one of unbridled ecstasy Saturday night after the No. 1 Nittany Lions rallied for a thrilling 19-18 win over No. 2 Ohio State in front of 6,699 screaming fans inside Rec Hall.
Penn State rattled off four straight bout victories after intermission to claim its 42nd straight dual win and clinched at least a share of the Big Ten dual team title.
“I got to see those four in a row. It was pretty exciting, all of the energy,” said Penn State’s Zain Retherford, who’s 20-4 technical fall was the lone win in the first half of the dual. “My hands are still pretty welted. I’m just proud of the way the team competed. I think everyone stepped up.”
He may as well have been looking at Anthony Cassar as he uttered those words. Cassar, who is unranked by Intermat, finished off the four straight victories with an upset of No. 1 Kollin Moore at 197 pounds.
Cassar knew early in the week that he was getting the start against Moore. He said it was a match he had visualized — probably with the same result.
Cassar scored the first takedown of the bout with 1:10 left in the second period. He continued to pour it on in the third period with an escape, takedown and riding time point for the 6-3 win. It handed the Nittany Lions a 19-15 lead going into the final bout.
“I went out there and just tried to stay present and do my best,” Cassar said. “I knew if I did that, that’s all the fans and team wanted. It turned out in my favor so I know I gave my best.”
The entire match fell on heavyweight Nick Nevills’ shoulders. If he limited Kyle Snyder — who didn’t mind a little trash-talk earlier in the week — to a decision, his team would’ve won. If one of the world’s best wrestlers earned a major decision or better, however, the Nittany Lions would’ve had to lean on criteria or possibly even lose.
Nevills tallied the first takedown of the match on the reigning Olympic gold medalist. Fueled by giving up the takedown, Snyder rattled off three of this own to have a 7-5 lead after one period. In the second period, Nevills earned another takedown and almost pinned the two-time NCAA champ. In the end, Nevills fended off another shot from Snyder, that if Snyder finished would’ve given him the major decision. Instead, it was just a 15-10 win for Snyder.
Rec Hall erupted after Snyder was only able to manage a decision. Nevills may not have won — but he clinched the victory for his team. No loss for Penn State was sweeter.
“He didn’t know what to expect,” Sanderson said of Nevills’ match with Snyder last year. “Nevills can wrestle. He still got beat pretty good but Nick did a great job under the circumstances.”
But, to get to that point, the team needed to turn around the deficit — and that started with Vincenzo Joseph out of the break. He started the rally at 165 pounds by snapping off four takedowns and getting a little help from Te-Shan Campbell in a 12-3 major decision. The Nittany Lions then trailed 15-9.
Penn State’s Mark Hall got the best of Bo Jordan again, but this time he dominated the Buckeye in the 6-4 win. Hall hit his patented duck under with 1:16 left in the third period. After that, he rode out the rest of the period for 1:40 in riding time. Penn State was within three.
In the most anticipated bout of the dual, Bo Nickal continued his winning ways over Ohio State’s Myles Martin at 184 pounds. Nickal had three takedowns of Martin and even collected some near-fall points. He amassed 2:07 in riding time and collected the 10-2 major decision. The Nittany Lions had their first lead of the dual at 16-15 before Cassar stepped on the mat.
“These guys knew they had to step it up,” Sanderson said. “We were going to have a big match or two. Ohio State’s lineup is very tough at every weight class.”
The “strange week” seemed to have a slight effect on the Nittany Lions as they dropped the first three bouts and trailed 10-0.
Penn State fans got to see the debut of Carson Kuhn at 125 pounds. He did so against Nathan Tomasello and proved he’s got quite the potential.
Kuhn, who was wrestling for the first time in two years, snapped off three takedowns of the former NCAA champion — even breaking a sign on the table by the mat. However, Kuhn’s gas tank ran out and he fell 21-12 to Tomasello.
“Throwing Carson Kuhn out there, he looked good,” Sanderson said. “We knew he was going to get tired, especially when you throw him out in his first match in that atmosphere.”
Corey Keener and Nick Lee each suffered one-point losses at 133 and 144 pounds, respectively. Keener gave up two takedowns to No. 2 Luke Pletcher in the 5-4 defeat. Lee was tied with Joey McKenna at 6-6 but McKenna had 1:32 in riding time for the decisive winner.
The Nittany Lions wrestle again in a week when they host Iowa inside the Bryce Jordan Center. However, Sanderson knows his team isn’t through with seeing the Buckeyes.
“It was a great dual. Ohio State has a really great team,” Sanderson said. “We’ll see them again here shortly.”